Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NY23: Travel Notes

Lord, I was born a rambling man,
Trying to make a living
And doing the best I can . . .

-- Allman Brothers Band
Other things being equal, whenever I travel, I prefer to stay at a Hampton Inn. They're ubiquitous, relatively standardized, and of a reliable quality. There will be a clean bed, a desk, good Wi-Fi, free coffee in the lobby and a decent continental breakfast in the morning.

Other journalists like Holiday Inn, and some of the big network hotdogs will fly in and bill their bosses for a really posh downtown Sheraton or Hilton, but when I'm driving several hundred miles to cover a story and free to choose my own accommodations, I'll always go for the Hampton Inn nearest the interstate exit. Accuse me of bias in this matter, if you wish. That’s just how I roll.

How, then, to explain why I spent two nights last week at the Parkview Hotel in downtown Syracuse?

When I'd laid out my itinerary for this trip to cover the Doug Hoffman campaign in New York's 23rd District, I'd been quite specific:
$145 gets me Wednesday night at a Hampton Inn near Syracuse, N.Y. $155 gets me Thursday night at a Hampton Inn near Plattsburgh, N.Y.

And that was honestly my plan. Dick Armey was scheduled to appear Wednesday night at a FreedomWorks meet-up in Cicero, near the Syracuse airport, and so I checked online and found that the nearest Hampton Inn was $145 a night.

When I called, however, I learned they were booked solid. What I hadn't anticipated was that Syracuse University was having "Parents Week," and nearly every hotel in town was full. So scratch the Hampton Inn.

Then, en route to the Wednesday night event, I talked to a source and learned Armey's schedule for his New York trip. After the FreedomWorks meet-up in Cicero, he'd travel Thursday morning to Watertown to announce his endorsement of Hoffman. They would then immediately travel back to Syracuse for a private luncheon, followed by an afternoon press conference where Hoffman would endorse the flat tax. (Syracuse is not in NY23, but is the regional media center covering most of the district.)

This schedule meant I'd have to scratch my itinerary. It made no sense to check out of a Syracuse-area hotel Thursday morning, travel to Watertown, travel back to Syracuse, and then drive several hours to Plattsburgh, arriving late Thursday night. No, clearly the thing to do was to make Syracuse the base for two days, then make a day trip to Plattsburgh on Friday.

An ability to improvise is essential to surviving in the news business. You make your plans for coverage, but then stuff happens and you have to be able to change your plans to fit the story. It's not the kind of business that is suitable to a rigid, uptight personality. How the heck David Brooks spent years as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal is therefore an interesting question, but not one I have time to contemplate now.

So, Wednesday I rolled into Cicero late for the Armey/FreedomWorks meet-up. The Google directions were wrong, and I had to stop twice to ask directions. At the second place, a Byrne Dairy convenience store, a clerk named Greg finally got me pointed the right way. (Greg is a retired Army captain and had a TomTom device in his car.)

Finding the location in Cicero proved maddeningly difficult. I decided to grab a sandwich, text-messaged two of Armey's assistants ("Please call me ASAP.") and waited for them to call. Finally, with one of the assistants directing me by phone, I reached the location, the courtyard of a mall/auto dealership called "Drivers Village."

After the meeting ended I interviewed a few people. When Armey and his crew were preparing to leave, I asked them about the Thursday schedule. Where were they staying? Could I ride with them up to Watertown and back or, failing that, follow them caravan-style?

Well, they had a full vehicle, so I couldn't ride along, but they were staying at the Parkview downtown. Although I figured it would be too rich for my budget, I had to ask, "How much are y'all paying for a room there?"

The answer surprised me: $105 a night. Wow. Forty bucks a night less than the Hampton near the airport, and $50 less than the Hampton in Plattsburgh. So I got directions, drove downtown, walked in the front door of the Parkview, asked the clerk for a room, and 10 minutes later was checked in at this fine hotel, built in 1926 and beautifully appointed in art nouveau style.

Why so cheap? Location, location, location. The lavish, massive, modern Renaissance Hotel is half a block down the street, and if you were a businessman booking a big conference, the newer facility has all the advantages over the quaint Parkview. Market forces thus required the Parkview to offer a lower rate in order to maintain a sufficient level of occupancy to assure profitability.

A free-market guy like Dick Armey could appreciate the beauty of this, as could I, since it meant that I'd spend two nights in elegant style for $90 less than what I'd have paid for accommodations at the Hampton.

No time to relate the whole trip now, as another midnight deadline looms. Here's the opening of my Monday feature article in The American Spectator:
State Route 3 runs through New York's 23rd Congressional District from Hannibal on the west end near Lake Ontario to Plattsburgh on the shore of Lake Champlain that forms the state's eastern border with the Vermont.
From Hannibal, it takes about an hour and a half to drive to Watertown (population 27,310, which makes it one of the district's largest towns). Drive another 115 miles east from Watertown, and State Route 3 crosses a bridge and becomes known locally as River Street. There's a pizza shop on the right as you cross the intersection with Main Street. Just past Church Street on the left, in the former location of a Nice 'n' Easy convenience store, is the main headquarters of the Doug Hoffman for Congress campaign.
Friday afternoon, two campaign staffers and a handful of volunteers were manning Hoffman HQ, stuffing envelopes, answering phones and handing out yard signs to supporters who occasionally dropped in. Unless you were already aware of the news surrounding the Conservative Party candidate in this three-way special election, you'd never suspect that this building in Saranac Lake, N.Y. (population 4,908) was Ground Zero for one of the biggest political stories of the year. . . .
Read the whole thing. It's your contributions to the Shoe Leather Fund that allow me to do this kind of stuff as a freelancer. Editors are happy to get original on-the-scene reporting, but trying to talk them into footing the bill for travel is a hassle. Thanks to you guys, this hassle can be overcome.

I've got some more photos from the trip I haven't posted yet, so we'll let the pictures tell more of the story:

What can the efforts of one reporter/blogger mean in a campaign like this?
Thanks in large part to bloggers like Erick Erickson and Robert Stacy McCain, the race has garnered national attention. In the modern media era, even the most obscure election can set the motion for a conservative comeback . . .
That's from CPAC Director Lisa De Pasquale's Townhall.com column. I'm planning to go back to NY23 Thursday or Friday, so please contribute to the Shoe Leather Fund.


  1. It is no doubt a hassle to get editors to pony up for travel, but (as my favorite webcomic says) if you do it, you get paid twice.

  2. Hey!

    I submitted a BlogAd. It still says "Waiting For Approval"

    Ya wanna hurry it up a little?

    I hate to complain, but geez... I don't mean to complain, but I don't get off 20 bucks often for something like this.

    You also lied about having to approve BlogAds. ;)


  3. ok, Mr. Bigshot blogger man, how much were you paid for your endorsement of Hampton Inns? You, sir, are the reason that the Feds are going to regulate bloggers and the internet. Just saying.

  4. Scott said...
    ok, Mr. Bigshot blogger man, how much were you paid for your endorsement of Hampton Inns?

    More to the point, will being photographed with a Molson (!) cause me to lose my endorsement contract with Corona: Official Beer of Bigshot Blogger Men?

  5. Patrick said...
    I submitted a BlogAd. It still says "Waiting For Approval"

    Blame Tom Knapp. There's a limit of 2 ads at a time, I think, and between Tom's Knappster ad and the PETA Pamela Anderson ad, you're in a holding pattern.

    I am way behind on my e-mail, so I've got no idea what's going on with the BlogAds account. Contributions to the Blog Intern Fund might help me hire someone to cope with all this stuff . . .

  6. @Scott,
    Aw, c'mon: you're not seeing the difference between the 1st Amendment and IRS greed born in the 16th Amendment?

  7. Thanks for the positive coverage of our city! Normally we only get attention when crazy old dudes build basement bunkers to confine women.

    Great job covering NY23 and Hoffman's campaign!

  8. I love these "process" posts on your shoeleather adventures.

    Keep 'em coming!

  9. The Lonely Conservative said...
    Thanks for the positive coverage of our city! Normally we only get attention when crazy old dudes build basement bunkers to confine women.

    Some have suggested that's how I got such a beautiful wife.


  10. Stacy, she is quite lovely and your children are all either handsome [boys] or cute [girls]. Question: were you on the road an awful lot???

  11. Bob Belvedere said...
    Question: were you on the road an awful lot???


  12. Shame such a beautiful hotel has to be in Syracuse.

  13. Thanks for the nice pictures and positive coverage of Upstate NY. I grew up there, and it is comforting to know that even with all the changes in the world, the jukeboxes there still play Freebird and the beer of choice is still Molson. - Nancy